36 Hours in Budapest: Exploring the Christmas Markets

Budapest is a beautiful city all-year-round, but at Christmas, it’s something truly spectacular. I’ve wanted to visit Budapest for a while now, and it worked out that Chelsea FC (the football team I support) were playing a match in Budapest during the festive period, which made for the perfect reason to go and make a trip out of it! I travelled with my parents and my boyfriend.

We arrived in Budapest on Thursday 13th December, checked into our hotel, had a walk around the local area (and collected our match tickets from a nearby hotel), then had something to eat before heading to the match in the evening, which was at the Groupama Arena. We then had the whole of Friday to explore the city of Budapest, before flying home on the Saturday morning. We visited a few different Christmas markets (of course), but we also packed as much as we could into our time there…


How to Get There

We flew with Wizz Air, and flew out from London Luton (LTN) into Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport (BUD), which took roughly 2 and a half hours. We departed London at 8:20am and landed around 11:45am (local time), then left Budapest at 12:30pm coming home, landing back in London at 14:10pm (again, local time), which gave us most of the day to ourselves on the Thursday, and allowed us to get back in good time on the Saturday.

We didn’t pre-book our transfers, so we got a taxi from outside the airport to our hotel, which took approximately 30 minutes, as we stayed near the city centre. You could always pre-book your transfer, as it may work out a bit cheaper than getting a taxi from outside the airport, or you could travel by bus or train – depending on where you’re staying, and your budget!


Where to Stay

We stayed at the Leonardo Hotel with two double rooms for two nights, which was ideal, as it’s within walking distance of the city centre. We booked our flights and hotel as a package deal through Expedia, as it worked out the cheapest, so it was £165 each in total – not bad! We also paid for breakfast each morning; an optional extra.

The room was comfortable and clean, and ideal for what we needed. The location was great as we could walk to most places, and we also got on an open-top bus (thankfully it was covered during this time of year as it was SO cold!) on the Friday, which allowed us to explore the city in as little time as possible; getting off at the stops which interested us.

Address: 30-34 Tompa Street, 1094 Budapest, Hungary


Getting Around

The best (and easiest) way to get around Budapest is on foot, which allows you to fully take in the sights and atmosphere the city has to offer. Budapest also has a great public transport network; subway (metro), buses, trams, and there are even boat tours along the Danube River – which we did, even during one of the coldest months, December!

You could also download the free SmartCity app, which gives you public transport information, route planners, and public transport timetables. I didn’t know about this app until after I got home, but I thought I’d include it as I’m sure it would be very useful!


Day One

We travelled straight to our hotel (by taxi) after landing, to check-in, drop off our bags and freshen up. After collecting our match tickets, we had a few hours to spare before MOL Vidi FC v Chelsea FC, which kicked-off at 18:55pm local time.

We had a walk around the area near our hotel to get an idea of where everything was, before having dinner at a restaurant opposite the hotel. As we knew it was a 30 minute walk from the hotel to the Groupama Arena, we left shortly after dinner, allowing us plenty of time to get there and inside the stadium before kick-off.

Our first evening was spent watching the match, which was the ultimate reason we travelled to Budapest at this time. I would love to go back (in the warmer months) to explore more of what Budapest has to offer, but this trip was about Chelsea FC and seeing as much of Budapest (and its Christmas markets) in as little time as possible.

The match finished 2-2, and I have to say that I was relieved when the final whistle blew, as it was so uncomfortably cold. I just wanted to go back into the warmth! After the match finished, we walked back to the hotel, and had a fairly early night, before a busy day of sightseeing the following day…


Day Two

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel, followed by a walk to the city centre, along the Danube River and past the Liberty Bridge.

We stumbled across The Budapest Eye (basically a giant Ferris wheel slightly similar, but less fancy, to that of The London Eye) on Erzsébet Square, and decided to buy tickets to experience Budapest from above. The tickets cost (approximately) 2,700 HUF (£7.50) for adults, 1,500 HUF (£4) for children, and 2,400 HUF (£6.50) for concessions – students and seniors. It rotates 3 times (although it took us 4 times, so this might vary!), stopping at various points to let people on if necessary, and it takes around 8-10 minutes in total. Depending on your budget, this might be a little bit expensive for what it is, but you do get a great view over Budapest (weather permitting).

With this being our only full day in Budapest, we opted for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, which included a boat trip as well; allowing us to get around the city in the most practical way in such a short space of time. The different stops on the bus tour were at significant locations around the city, and it stopped at most of the places we wanted to visit, also allowing us time to explore each stop at our own pace, before getting back on and heading to the next location. There are different bus routes you can choose from as well – we went for the red route!

Our first stop was at St. Stephen’s Basilica, where they also had various Christmas market stalls. We didn’t have time to actually go inside St. Stephen’s Basilica, but the exterior is stunning! I can only imagine how beautiful it looks inside.

The next stop we decided to get off at was Heroes’ Square. The square itself is huge, with a towering monument that is definitely worth seeing for a sense of Hungarian history.

We then got off at Vajdahunyad Castle for the first real taste of Christmas markets in Budapest. It was SO cold outside, the best way to experience the festive stalls was with a cup of hot chocolate in hand; making it as warm and comfortable as possible, which was extremely difficult at times! We spent an hour or so here before heading back on the bus to the city centre, to arrive at the meeting point for the last boat tour of the evening, at 6:30pm.

The boat tour departs from Március 15 Square, dock no. 10 (under Elisabeth Bridge), and the time it departs varies throughout the year. The best place to check, based on when you’re going to be there, is on the official website. The boat takes one hour to complete the tour, and it’s definitely worth doing to see the views of Budapest in a different way, along the Danube River. As we went in December, it was freezing cold outside, but there was heating on board the boat – thankfully! The only problem was that the windows had so much condensation, it was annoying when trying to take photos (and actually see properly!), but I was grateful to just be sitting in the warmth for an hour!

After the boat tour, we walked to the Vörösmarty Square for the biggest and best Christmas market in Budapest! The whole atmosphere in the square was festive, with Christmas decorations and lights all around, and live festive music to get you in the mood for shopping from the stalls, and ultimately, Christmas itself. There were stalls with food, mulled wine and handcrafted items – we bought a beautiful bauble for our Christmas tree – and it was wonderful to experience the Christmas tradition in another culture and city. After visiting the Salzburg Christmas markets last year, it was fortunate that the Chelsea FC match fell at the perfect time to make a trip to Budapest at the most festive time of year.

We went for dinner at an Italian restaurant near Vörösmarty Square, Il Pastaio, where I had the most delicious pizza and tiramisu. I would highly recommend dining here if you get the chance!

When we left the restaurant, there was snow on the ground outside – it had been snowing whilst we were eating! It kept snowing until we left the following morning, which made everything feel even more Christmassy. After dinner, we got a taxi back to our hotel, had a drink in the bar, and then went to bed before an early morning flight the next day…

I had a really lovely time in Budapest, and I’d love to visit again one day – maybe when it’s slightly warmer though! Overall, I would definitely recommend exploring Budapest over the festive period; it’s the ideal way to get you in the mood for Christmas!

Have you ever been to Budapest before? Is there anything else you would recommend to see / do whilst in the city? I’d love to know!


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